GA4: The Next Generation of Google Analytics

This is an excerpt of a masterclass presented by Charles Farina, Head of Innovation at Adswerve. Connect with Charles on LinkedIn, Twitter and his personal blog.

By now you’ve probably heard all about GA4, but where did it come from? Up to now, there were two different Analytics platforms: Google Analytics and Google Analytics for Firebase. Firebase is Google’s platform for Apps, and the standard Analytics platform deals with Web data.

The problem with having two different platforms is that it makes it much harder for companies to effectively compare and analyze their data.

That’s why, with the next generation of Analytics, Google is pushing forward with a single platform: Google Analytics 4.

We're going to take a close look at all the new features that are packed into Google Analytics 4, but let's start by understanding exactly who benefits from this new platform.

Who is Google Analytics 4 for?

Google Analytics 4 isn't just for people with an app. Whether you have a website only, an app only, or both, you will need to take notice of this new version.

In fact, if you go and try to create a new property in Analytics today, you will have to choose between these three options.

Here is another way of thinking about it.

What you have with GA4 is a complete rewrite of the Google Analytics you knew, which includes a new data model, a new interface, and no backward compatibility for your previous web-only data.

What is meant by a ‘new data model’?

When we talk about the new data model that comes with GA4, we need to think about where the data came from with the old Google Analytics. The hit types that were used to collect data fell into these categories:

  • Events
  • Page views
  • E-Commerce
  • User Timings
  • Social Interactions
  • Exceptions
  • Screens

The new GA4 data model doesn’t collect data based on “hits”, but instead focuses on Events. This makes it much simpler to track.

Here’s a comparison of how a video would be tracked under the two different models.

By applying parameters to the event you not only get much more flexibility, but setup is also much easier.

What new features can we find in Google Analytics 4?

The new data model provides a paradigm shift in Analytics, but how does that translate into benefits, and what other new features does it make possible?

New and improved reports

Improved Funnel Reports

The new GA4 includes some exciting new funnels features which either didn’t exist in the old model or were only available as paid extras as part of GA360. The new feature allows you to create new funnels on the fly that are retroactive and with any conditions that you want.

In the example below you can see funnels created for subscriptions, form fills, ecommerce, leads, etc.

Trended Funnels

You can even create trended funnels, which is a feature that doesn’t even exist on the paid 360 model.

A trended funnel allows you to track each step of your funnel on a graph to see how it changes over time and how different elements affect the trajectory.

Open vs Closed Funnels

Another new feature with funnels allows you to create open or closed funnels. With an open funnel you can allow entrance at any step of the process, whereas a closed funnel only allows entrance at step one.

Elapsed Time Between Steps

In the existing version of Analytics, it’s very difficult to measure the time between steps in your funnels. For example, how long does it take a user from accessing your site to adding an item to the cart? How long between adding to cart and purchase?

The new version provides data on the time between the steps in your funnels. Just enable the Show Elapsed Time checkbox to show this data.

Next Action

The new version also makes it easy for you to see the user’s next action on the funnel so you can track your user journeys easily.

New Pathing Reports

The new version of Analytics has other types of reports that aren’t even available in the current GA360. One example of this are pathing reports, which show user flow through your website. The current user flow reports in GA are highly sampled and very rigid. The new pathing reports solve those problems for Analytics users by allowing you to easily view Events or Pages, click to see where the user goes next and it’s much easier to group, segment, or do other kinds of pathing analysis.

New Realtime Reports

The current realtime reports available in Analytics are looking a bit dated. On top of that, they aren’t flexible or transparent enough and are difficult to use. With the new realtime reports, you have access to many more parameters and data than before.

With Audiences, for example, you can see what audiences are visiting your site today.

You also have Custom Events, where you can see parameters.

New Standard Reports

Along with all these new and exciting reports, we also get improvements to existing reports. Because the new version of GA4 is built from scratch, get ready for new features and different looks.

The traditional reports suite was: Audience, Acquisitions, Behavior and Conversions. GA4 tries to simplify the reporting by making it easier for you to find what you’re looking for. On the side menu, you will be able to navigate easily to reports on Users, Demographics, Behavior and Technology. In addition, you will be able to view all Events data, including Conversions.

The UI has also been refreshed so you can see realtime data.

And you can even track User Properties.

New Cross-Platform Reports

If you have a common user ID that you are tracking, you’ll be able to see the data combined across web, android and iOS platforms.

This is made possible with the new reporting identity functionality. Currently, to identify and track users, Google uses cookies. However, in order to track the same user across multiple devices, cookies are not useful, so Google also allows you to send the user ID to track that same user across multiple devices. The problem with this is that Google separates the user data from anonymous and identified users into different reports.

With GA4, they have been able to consolidate this. Now, when a user logs in with their ID, Google tracks that user by user ID, and if they don’t log in, it defaults to anonymous tracking by device. If you want, you can switch the default to only track anonymous data. The best thing is that it will apply these settings to all of your existing data whenever you switch between the two settings, without making any permanent changes.

Improved Debugging

The debugging view is a new feature where you can send all of your test data to one report specifically for debugging. This makes troubleshooting so much easier:

  • See the data streams in order
  • Click on any data to check the metadata is correct
  • Identify and resolve problems quickly and easily

Automatic Measurement

One of the problems with getting useful data from Analytics was that you needed to set up a number of different tags to track all the different metrics. With the new version, it’s simply a case of activating Enhanced Measurement and all of these parameters are tracked automatically.

In fact, Enhanced Measurement is activated by default and leaves it up to you to remove things that you don’t need.

New Audience Builder

Using advanced segments (audience builder), you can build an audience on the fly and then create a new report to tell you about that audience.

GA4 has taken the existing audience builder and added even more features, such as new event scoping, duration, time-based sequences and an ‘excludeoption.

For example, if you have a 5-step form and want to find out how many people completed it in less than 5 minutes, the old system wouldn’t let you do this, but can do it now with the new time-based sequences.

Exclusion options let you exclude temporarily or permanently, whereas before you could only exclude permanently.

Simplified Conversion Tracking

In the old GA platform, you could only track conversions effectively if you had goals configured. Without that, you would be missing a lot of important features. Conversion data is essential for your business and the new version has made it super simple to track. All you need to do is find the event you want to track on the Events page, and enable the Mark as conversion toggle.

You can set a total of 30 conversions and can easily turn them on and off if you want to change what you are tracking.

New Google Ads Linking / Predictive Analysis

Everything you create in Google Ads is automatically shared with your Analytics account and vice versa. So if you have created audiences in your Analytics account, these are automatically shared with Google Ads. This is helpful and an easy way to share data if you have two different managers for your Analytics and Ads accounts.

In addition, Google have added predictive capabilities so if you are using GA4, Google will create audiences and predictive behavior models for them. There are two of these metrics; purchase probability and churn probability. For example, based on the behavior of a user who visited your site in the last 7 days, Google will tell you the probability of them visiting again in the next 7 days. This can be very valuable to help you decide where to put your future ad spend.

Free BigQuery Linking

There’s one feature that Analytics users have been asking for more than any other and that’s integrations. The API from the old Analytics has its limitations and so offering free linking to BigQuery manages to solve many of these problems.

All you have to do is import your data into BigQuery and then have that raw data available for linking and integrating to whichever platform you want.

When is the right time to start using GA4?

After looking at all of these great new features and improvements of GA4, does that mean you should drop everything else and start using it right now?

Before you jump in with both feet, you should take into account the following things that limit the functionality of GA4:

  • Restrictive limits – parameter limits shared at property level, no global parameters, etc.
  • Basic reporting can be very challenging (campaign reporting, attribution, e-commerce, etc).
  • Under heavy development (which is good in some respects but also means things are likely to break).
  • No data studio connector.

For all these reasons and more, you should continue using the old version of Analytics for the time being.

To get started right away with GA4, here are three simple things you can do:

  • Go and create some GA4 properties today in Google Analytics
  • Review these great resources from Simo Ahava and Krista Seidan
  • Use this free in-depth implementation guide for GA4 using Google Tag Manager

Take 10 minutes of your time today to give yourself a massive head start and prepare yourself for a future which is GA4.

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